John The Apostle Walks The Plank

Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a broadcaster scorned. After my recent adventures with RTE’s Pat Kenny, it was only a matter of time before the veteran broadcaster would try to even the score for what he no doubt perceived as slights to the notion that he is capable of being unbiased, objective and responsible on the issue of climate change.

The COP15 gig commences next Monday in Copenhagen, with the great and the good from science, politics and policymaking gathering from the five continents for the world’s most important climate conference since the Rio Summit in 1992. Pat Kenny’s parody of pre-Copenhagen “coverage” involved bringing on a discredited Australian mining industry hack on as an “expert” to challenge the dreadful scientific consensus that Kenny, in the great tradition of Don Quixote, is determined to unseat.

Click here to listen to the Pat Kenny/Plimer/Gibbons “debate” 2-12-09

Not by himself, of course, since the man is truly, deeply ignorant on the subject (until today, I thought he was just feigning ignorance; my bad). Anyhow, back to the story. Kenny drew me into his ménage à trois with one Ian Plimer, a professor of geology from the University of Adelaide, and director of at least one, and possibly three, mining companies (this fact not only escaped Kenny’s eagle eye, the great journalist felt it was irrelevant. Duh.)

The purpose of this circus, ostensibly, was to discuss Plimer’s anti-climate change science polemic, which Kenny seems to think was a learned volume on climate science, presumably because he, like me, hadn’t actually read Plimer’s tripe. I had, however, read detailed expert critiques, which are far more useful than wading through the molasses of half-truths, lies and deceptions that Plimer’s little confection consisted of.

A report in today’s Guardian makes interesting reading. Headed: ‘Climate change denial is the new article of faith for the far right’, it outlines a claim by neo-fascist Nick Griffin of the UK’s BNP explaining how climate change was all a left wing conspiracy. It gets better. According to the Guardian, “Prof Ian Plimer then helped the UK Independence party to launch its own declaration of climate change denial this week. Suddenly climate change denial has become a new article of faith among the far right”. Aaaaah, that would indeed be the very same “expert” trotted out by Kenny this morning.

The UK right wing rags such as the Daily Express have, like Kenny, pounced on Plimer’s pack of lies and blown it up into the 180 degree opposite of the truth. Yes, there is a climate scandal, and it’s that people like Pat Kenny are allowed to sabotage this deadly serious debate with their own ideology (in Kenny’s case, it’s as likely spiced up with a bad case of pique as well, since NOBODY talks to him like that, don’t ya know).

In the two years I’ve been operating in the public domain on this topic, I’ve never had a day like today. The phone, texts and email has been buzzing since 11am. Academics and others trying to mobilise action on climate change are dumbfounded that someone as reputable as Kenny can be so utterly, totally, and completely wrong on such an issue of overwhelming public import.

In many ways, it’s sad to see someone I once admired as a decent journalist and gifted interviewer descend in the twilight of his career into a parody of himself – RTE’s real-life version of the fictitious Alan Partridge on Radio Norwich, fearlessly asking the hard questions as he baits local farmers about the giant GM chickens they probably keep in their sheds, etc. etc.

Joel Connelly in the Seattle Post has a terrific piece today on the confederacy of liars and shills. Here’s an extract:

“The climate debate is curious. In one corner, you have scientists working in the field — the U.S. Geological Survey measuring glaciers, NASA scientists recording satellite images on how the Arctic icepack is shrinking, biologists measuring the scope of forest-killing beetle infestations, and statisticians establishing a connection between lack of rain, human displacement and armed conflict.

“Critics, by contrast, never go anywhere near the actual conditions that scientists are measuring and recording. They sit in New York TV studios, the Daily Telegraph’s city room and Drudge’s Florida digs, and spout falsehoods: The distortions, in turn, are eaten up by an audience that is sour, sedentary and suspicious of change”.

Hmmm, “sour, sedentary and suspicious of change”. What a great description. (Viz Plimer, I had meant to slip in Upton Sinclair’s line about the difficulty of getting a person to understand an issue when his salary depends on his NOT understanding it during today’s mugging. Another day, perhaps).

I’ve received a bag or two full of hate emails already today for daring to challenge the climate sceptics and their spiritual leader in Montrose. Of infinitely more value was an email tonight from a Professor Colin O’Dowd, Head Dept. of Physics, NUI, Galway (the full version of the email is in the Comments section below, as submitted to the Irish Times. And for the truly paranoid out there, no, I don’t know Prof O’Dowd, I’ve never met or spoken with him; our first ever correspondence was his email):

“John, I listened with great surprise to the Pat Kenny Show this morning and his appalling and gratuitous treatment of the debate on climate change.  His attack on you was disgraceful and apparently driven to justify his own “pedigree” in impartial journalistic skills!  Well done in your defense of the onslaught!  Kenny should be seriously embarrassed of his professional skill”

Thank you, sir. It’s a good conclusion to what has been a shit day, ruined the rank idiocy on my part of being drawn into a shitstorm of scatological stupidity and dishonesty that embarrasses all concerned. Including me. As regards the numerous personal and professional smears Kenny flung at me today? In the end, I think it was worth it; in his rage, (“apostle, apostle”, etc) his mask dropped long enough to reveal himself in a way that will have surprised quite a few people.

Could I have handled my show-trial better? Abso bloody lutely, but hey, that’s showbiz for you, and it was his show, so my ability to shape it with an openly hostile host who threw away even the pretense of even-handedness, was limited indeed. Too bad, as I had a ton of great questions lined up; for instance, does Kenny think it’s time to fearlessly re-open the “debate” on the dangerous scientific consensus that links smoking and lung cancer? I can find him a list of loons from esteemed institutions in the Deep South (Alabama, perhaps?) who’ll be delighted to spread smear and confusion here too.

Why stop there? Didn’t some expert (Wakefield, 1998) come up with a link between the MMR vaccine and autism? Yea, Pat, why the cover up? The half-truths and innuendos demand to be heard! And your show is just the platform. Oh, and I read somewhere that seat belts are actually dangerous, since you might be trapped in a burning car.

How about HIV and AIDS, didn’t someone, somewhere question the connection there (the skeptics even got the then president of South Africa on board, leading to an estimated 500,000 needless AIDS deaths). Then there’s the great science conspiracy linking CFCs with the destruction of the ozone layer. C’mon Pat, if you’re man enough to continue your anti-science rampage, I’ll happily supply you with a list of pseudo-academics and right wing think tanks willing to provide you with a Plimer-clone on pretty much any of the above.

Sure, we’ve had decades of scientific evidence on all the above, but Pat HATES consensus (such dull, dull radio) so bring on the loons! And not forgetting Patrick Holford, an old favourite of Kenny’s from both radio and TV, and a pseudo-science charlatan and vitamin huckster to his millionaire fingertips. Just Kenny’s kinda guy. Smooth, chatty, friendly and vacuous. And, like our great broadcaster  champion at challenging all that stuffy old peer-reviewed “medical/scientific consensus”.

As Erasmus reminds us: “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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46 Responses to John The Apostle Walks The Plank

  1. michael c says:

    Bilious fellow aren’t you?

    [quote]Kenny drew me into his ménage à trois with one Ian Plimer[/quote]

    I imagine a researcher phoned you up and you agreed to go on. Listening to the discussion from an essentially neutral POV I was struck by just how angry you were once it became clear that Pat Kenny wasn’t simply going to row in behind your attack on Ian Pilmer.

    You’ll get a better response from the kind of people you need to get onside (the listening masses) by being civil to your host and other guests. Its simple enough.

  2. Hal Clements says:

    Dear John, I listened to the kenny show this morning and again later. The man should be sacked. For those who can recognise it he surely seems to have an agenda. Sadly his (and others) agenda makes people feel comfortable with Convenient Untruth. As an employee of publicly funded radio he should be obliged professionally and morally to perform in the public interest. As the recent floods illustrate the publics interest was traitored by Kenny on the show.
    Have a look at Pilmer interviewed on ABC Australia if you have a moment.. The interviewer had him cornered on temp. records.

    regards, Hal Clements

  3. Jason says:

    Oh dear John. Perhaps if you hadn’t started the interview with infantile name calling followed by the admission that not only had you not read Plimers book but wouldn’t read the book, you might have had some credibility.

    I’ve heard so many climate change advocate that the science is “settled” and therefore can no longer be debated. However, your problem is that the general public – who have to pay for and live with the costs associated with preparing for climate change – haven’t been following the debate and are naturally sceptical when forecasts of warming turn out to be anything but from a local perspective.

  4. David Quinn says:

    Hi John,
    I am still waiting for your response to my question in relation to the CRU scandal. I’ll put it again:
    “One of your main contentions has been that there have been little or no papers published in peer-reviewed journals of note by scientists sceptical about AGW. George Monbiot has said “some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ” Do you accept that your contention is no longer valid?

    By the way “shrill” is not a noun.

  5. Joseph Curtin says:

    @ John

    I note Pat’s award winning John Christy University of Alabama is not actually a climate change skeptic at all. He accepts the basic physics behind global warming.

    As we know, the physics behind anthropogenic climate change has been
    understood and accepted since 18th centaury Irish scientist John
    Tyndall’s simple laboratory experiments proved that atmospheric trace
    constituents (water vapor, ozone, carbon dioxide and other GHGs)
    absorbed long wave radiation and affected global temperature (see:
    Tyndall, John, 1863. On Radiation through the Earth’s Atmosphere.
    Phil. Mag. ser. 4, vol. 25, 200-206).

    These processes have been replicated in laboratory experiments. The funny thing about Pilmer is that he doesn’t understand or accept these basics fundamentals. This is presumably why he has zero credibility and deserves to be treated like the dangerous quack that he is. Going to Pilmer for the science of climate change would be like going to a witch-doctor for a heart transplant. Well done Pat – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing in the hands of an idiot!

    Christie posits negative feedbacks and the dominance of water vapor in particular over GhGs. For a lay man like me who simply doesn’t have the knowledge to disprove his basic thesis, I will go with the consensus position for the moment.

    I would note, however, the following facts:

    – The ten warmest years in the period of instrumental measure
    of the have all occured in the past 12 years.

    – 2008 was the 9th warmest year in the period of instrumental

    – Eurasia, the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula were
    exceptionally warm in 2008.

    – Except for the relatively cool Pacific Ocean, most of the
    world was either near normal or unusually warm in 2008.

    – The cooler than average temperatures of the Pacific Ocean
    were due to a strong La Niña (ie: natural tropical temperature
    oscillation) that existed in the first half of the year and depressed
    the global average temperature.

    РLa Ni̱a conditions were still prevailing at the start of the year. 2009 still looks like being 4/5 warmest year on record

    – 2010 could be very warm if a strong El Nino persists into the year. a new global temperature record would be set next year. This would be scientifically significant.

    – Earlier “anomalies” in correlations between global
    temperatures and GHG concentrations are well understood and have been
    unexplained in successive IPCC reports for over a decade; Pilmer seems not to have read these.

    – One of the most authorative source on temperature record is the NASA
    Institute of Space Studies, see:
    2008/ for further analysis of temperature records.

    I’m going with the consensus for the moment. If a few years down the road temperatures were not following predictions by models, then it might be time for a rethink.

  6. James says:

    I listened to the debate yesterday and was suprised at your uneasiness at countering any points made to you. Pat is entitled to put differing opinions to you but you seemed almost in shock that these points were even made to you.

    Perhaps, as you say, you are widely read and an expert on global warming/climate change but as a BBC news reported yesterday, many people are growing skeptical about the changes in the climate and are also worried about the knee-jerk reactions to supposedly revolutionise the way we live. They see the climate changing every day. Every day we hear of these amazing schemes in ‘green jobs’ and the ‘green new deal’ but to the ordinary punter, they have yet to see them. Have carbon emissions not reduced drastically since the recession anyway? (They have in Japan, the world’s second biggest economy).

    Many of course are skeptical of the precautionary principle also recently used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – ‘we have to do something now because somehting may happen in the future’.

    Do you think the recent flooding in Ireland was climate change happening or is it just more people living on floodplains?

    Perhaps you should look at the massive problem of overpopulation inthe world which is putting such a strain on our resources. The UN predicts massive food riots next year and is really worried about biofuels which will exacerbate the problem. Perhaps this problem is just too controversial.

    People will still read your column in the Irish Times but perhaps you should take a step back and look at the way you present yourself and your arguments in the media.

  7. John Gibbons says:

    @Michael C
    yes, guilty as charged. I find it hard to stand idly by when science is turned into a mockery. Yes, it upsets the hell out of me. Yes, I could have done a lot better. I could, for example, have stayed out of Kenny’s Kangaroo Court entirely, but then I’d be at home shouting at the radio, wondering why someone doesn’t take on that eejit. So yes, guilty as charged.

    as to whether Kenny deserves to be sacked, I’d rather not offer an opinion, one way or the other. I do agree strongly when you say we should expect better than this from employees of a national, State-funded station.

    not ducking the question – honest! – just kinda swamped. Will revert as soon as I have the time to answer it properly. JG

  8. Richard Tol says:

    Pat Kenny actually asked Ian Plimer critical questions. He then gave you an open goal with the CO2 flux v stock question. You wasted that opportunity and scored own goals instead.

    By the way, Ian Plimer is right. Human CO2 emissions are a tiny fraction of total CO2 emissions.

    However, natural CO2 emissions are balanced by natural CO2 uptake. Human CO2 emissions are not so balanced. Human CO2 emissions may be small but they are relevant. On net, humans shift carbon from the solid earth, where it is inactive, to the atmosphere and ocean, where it is radiatively and biologically active.

  9. Dara Gallagher says:

    I too heard his ambushing of you yesterday, and it is an old and favoured technique of PK. I fell victim to it once too. What we hahatve here is a man with an agenda, or agendas, posing as a fair interlocutor; he uses the same method when dissing the Green Party at every opportunity and when discussing the economy, where he constantly supports the idea that higher taxes will drive the rich out of the country. He never mentions the fact that he himself is not only possibly the highest paid public servant, and thus hardly neutral.

    Today came more of it, when he read out a whole bunch of emails from the sceptics in support of his fearless stance. He also pointed out that there was only one in your favour. He goes on to justify his ‘journalistic’ independence by citing the fact he had an economist on in 2004 who challenged the then orthodoxy on house prices, and he was right!
    Perhaps the best response to all this is on the Now Show on BBC Radio 4, available on iPlayer until tomorrow from 4mins30 to 8mins into the show.

    PK’s claim to be even-handed is laughable – as is his engineer’s love for nuclear power. Perhaps he should be shown the Frank Luntz proposal of some years back outlining the strategy of sowing doubt in order to pretend there is a debate,See

    And one pedantic point – the word is shill, means the same as flack.
    Shrill, on the other hand is how all too often people on the sane side sound, due to the frustration of having to seek to rebut a morass of lies. There is the danger of sounding worthy.
    Best of luck – not so much an Apostle as a Daniel!

  10. John Gibbons says:

    glad you enjoyed the Kenny Kangaroo Court. Appreciate you’re far closer to him on the ideology scale, so I imagine PK treats you like an honoured guest and not an Apostle for some extremist views.

    Pains me to say it, but yes, you’re right, I failed to get my foot out of my mouth to effectively scotch this complete falsification pedalled by Plimer. But here’s a question: why was that my job in the first place? How can Kenny get away with leaning back in the chair and pretending he’s just giving everyone “their say” when a person he promotes and constantly sides with as an expert/specialist is in fact a professional liar, and has been called out as such by a shed load of academics from all over the world, as well as responsible journalists not in the pay of the mining/energy lobby.

    But Richard, I don’t expect you to have the answers. After all, you and Plimer are both on the Academic Advisory Council of the right wing ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’. Fancy that! What a grand title. Here’s what the Guardian said about your fine Foundation yesterday:


    “They (climate sceptics) have been aided in their campaign of disinformation by some feeble media reporting. Take the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a lobby group launched on 23 November, a few days after the stolen emails first appeared on the web. The chairman of its board of trustees, Nigel Lawson, promoted his new group by listing alleged misdeeds by the Climatic Research Unit and calling for a public inquiry by a high court judge.

    What Lawson neglected to mention and which no journalist sought to quiz him about was a graph featuring prominently at the top of every page on the foundation’s website, using data published by the Climatic Research Unit and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre. Nor did he reveal that the foundation had “hidden” the temperature record prior to 2001, so that visitors could not tell that eight of the 10 warmest years since the instrumental record began in the 19th century have occurred since 2000.

    But most damagingly of all, nobody reported that the temperature data in the graph had been inaccurately misrepresented, with 2003 wrongly appearing to be warmer than 2005, and 2006 and 2007 erroneously appearing warmer than 2004.

    Who knows, maybe the “sceptics” will be evenhanded now and call for a public inquiry into the data on the foundation’s website. But don’t hold your breath”.
    Riddle me this, Richard, how does an employee of an Irish state-funded research body get to attach the ESRI’s good name to a farce like the GWPF? Surely there must be some serious conflict of interest here? Guess there’s only one way to find out…

  11. Denis O'Connor says:

    I found this article useful in dealing with climate change “contrarians” like Pat Kenny:
    It’s a shame that this overpaid light entertainment chat show host should be able to exploit his job at a public funded radio station to spread more mumbo jumbo.

  12. Richard Tol says:

    Pat Kenny gave you an open goal against Ian Plimer. Don’t blame Pat for your failure to score. That was the assist of a lifetime.

    Pat just does what journalists do: Show two sides, and organise a debate. That makes interesting radio.

    I’ve been and was on many advisory councils. The mission of the GWPF is “to bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant.” I fully support that mission. The GWPF seems to be serious about “balance” as the advisory council has members who strongly disagree with one another.

  13. John Gibbons says:

    hear hear. Mumbo jumbo is PK’s specialty. On the climate issue, he is close to the Rush Limbaugh model of shock jock journalism. At least with Limbaugh, he works for Fox, so you know where you stand…

  14. John Gibbons says:

    what can I say? Other than yes, I share your pain. When you pay bankers and brokers millions, you get arrogance, corruption, short-termism, egomania and hubris, and voila, a wrecked economy. When you pay “media stars” gigantic sums (from the public purse), you risk arrogance, overconfidence and hubris. QED.

    Kenny detests environmentalism/ists and has a bully pulpit available to him 5 days a week from which to launch his attacks.

  15. PaulC says:

    I happened to tune into the PK show yesterday, and I was struck by a couple of things – your reliance on ad hominem arguments to defend your position, and your shrill indignation that you had to even listen to these buffoons (as it appeared you believe them to be). Wouldn’t it have been more dignifed to have said, “the science supports my argument far more than it supports yours”, and then to counter – with some modicum of civility – with your own irrefutable evidence. I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth after listening to how you conducted yourself (and your evasive answers to many of the questions put to you). Kenny acted as devil’s advocate, but it seemed you are unfamiliar and deeply uncomfortable with this interviewing device. One of your worst moments was, “of course I haven’t read it!!” Truly cringeworthy. Also, your constant “mm-hmm”-ing, instead of extending some common courtesy to the person speaking, honestly reminded me of a schoolboy attempt to at mockery. The climate change lobby was badly let down!

  16. John Gibbons says:

    again, guilty as charged. I made a mistake going on air with a mining industry hack and a presenter with an axe to grind. I agree also that I could have presented the case for science better, but found it an extraordinarily hostile atmosphere in which to try to do so. Kenny was supposed to be the “referee” but he pulled on the Skeptic jersey almost from the off.

    A more skilled interviewee than me might have done a far better job, but either way, it was a damage limitation exercise. I’m a writer, Kenny’s the broadcaster, and he’s good too. Pity he’s so dead wrong though on the substantive issue.

    If I’ve let down the climate change lobby badly, then I apologise and can only offer to try to do a better job in the future. I will also try to avoid getting involved in Kangaroo Courts on live radio. What you heard as mockery, for what it’s worth, was in truth deep frustration, a bit like trying to respond to the old “when did you stop beating your wife” line.

    I accept your criticisms and take them on the chin. I haven’t developed a God complex, my interest in putting my time into this area is to try to improve the public debate on climate science. Yesterday didn’t advance or improve public understanding of the issues one iota.

  17. Joseph Curtin says:

    @ Richard

    I think to suggest that Pat acted as an independent arbitrator is to stretch your own credibility to breaking point.

    Do you think Pilmer is in a position “to bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant”?

  18. PaulC says:

    Thanks for the reply John. I reread my comment there, and I realise it seems harsh, but it’s my honest opinion. The CC lobby needs to get down off the high horse and explain, explain, explain (yes, until you are blue in the face). For people who are brand new to the subject (everyone knows the term ‘climate change’, but lots of people don’t know how the consensus was reached that it is a scientific fact), I think yesterday’s interview seemed a lot like the emperor’s new clothes – of course it’s fact, and anyone who can’t see it is a fool!

    Dissent must be accommodated. Creationists believe the earth is a few thousand years old, but the fossil records blow that out of the water, and most people can see for themselves that it can’t be right. It’s not the same for CC – the official line that was pushed was that Ireland would be experiencing weather like the south of France, in other words global warming. Everyone and their mother can see that Ireland has had less sun in the last few years than in a long time, and generally colder summers. It is far from obvious to most people that Climate Change, the erstwhile Global Warming, is a fact.

  19. Get over yourself Gibbons. Your nasty, mean-spirited, arrogant, intolerant rant undermined the message you were trying to get across.
    I really don’t think you get it. Your behaviour undermined the cause. Even people who would be on your side were appalled by your behaviour. Only one message in your favour today on PK. Think about it?
    You’re just a journalist and not a scientist and a little bit of humility on your side wouldn’t go astray.
    If I were you, I’d reflect long and hard on the way you behaved yesterday.
    Next time, don’t critique a book you haven’t read. It really sounds awful.
    As Oscar Wilde said: “Never read a book before you review it. It prejudices one so.

  20. neil says:

    If Mr. Gibbons is so convinced of the integrity of scientifically peer-reviewed papers perhaps he’d like to take a look at 450 such papers from the other side of the debate?

    Perhaps not, as in his opinion, these people must all be either charlatans, liars, cheats or just schoolboy scientists.

    You have not lost the argument re AGW Mr. Gibbons, you can’t lose an argument you never had in the first place.

    AGW is a complete hoax and you know it. Your backers, whoever they may be, must see you as an embarrassment at this stage. You certainly are to the Irish Times.

  21. John Gibbons says:

    mea culpa, mea culpa maxima. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I did think I was going in there for a discussion on the state of climate science in the days leading up to Copenhagen. I agree also (as stated in earlier posting replies) that I failed to cover either myself or climate science in glory yesterday. I allowed myself to be painted into a corner, thought I could talk my way out, but PK is at this a lot, lot longer than me, and he kept me on the back foot throughout.

    The mean-spirited, arrogance stuff, was more about the fact that I was exploding with frustration at the straitjacket I found myself in – that’s still no excuse for a below-par performance, for which I will, with absolute humility, accept fell well short of the mark.

    In hindsight, I was so determined not to be bossed around and manipulated by PK that I ended up sounding aggressive. Again, mea culpa. On the humility front, I have a belly that is bulging with humble pie, for what it’s worth.

    Owning up to not having read Plimer’s book was foolish but truthful (its content is total bullshit that would take a solid week to read and another month to track down all the errors and untruths).

    Instead, I relied on trusted expert scientific review/analysis. This is the right way to do it, but I should have simply lied and said yes Pat, I read this 500-page science fiction novella. That was an own-goal alright, and a learning point for sure.

    A small final point: you’ll find the main reason PK only got one message supporting me is that he chucked the rest in the ‘delete’ box. You’re being very innocent indeed if you think otherwise.

    Nonetheless, thanks Rosalind for your criticisms. I accept them in the spirit in which they are offered.

    @ neil
    that’s an old link, and if that’s the best you can do…

  22. John D says:

    I have to agree with PaulC above and others who found your performance incredibly poor and let down the AGW advocates. I don’t like Pat Kenny but I thought he was fair enough and you failed miserably to deal with questions raised. You seemed more intent on playing the man rather than the ball and had a chip on your shoulder before you went in. It was far from a Kangaroo Court . How can you dismiss a book if you have not at least read some of it at least. Your attitude here is to simply dismiss and name call those who don’t agree with you which is hardly helpful. Grow up. I found your performance abysmal and I agree with your perspective on AGW.

    There is also confusion which needs to be cleared up between those who believe in AGW and those who believe that GW is a natural phenomenon and those who don’t believe that there is an CC at all. The causes of CC is/are the main point/s of contention.

  23. Richard Tol says:


    I did not write that. Pat Kenny was impeccable at the start, and he gave John Gibbons a great opening to demolish Ian Plimer (as he deserves). John blew it, and then Pat got cross with John. Pat was supposed to facilitate a debate between Ian and John, but instead gave John a good bollocking.

    I disagree with Ian Plimer. He is right, though, when he says that there are a sizeable number of credible geologists who do not believe in anthropogenic climate change. Their reasoning is straightforward. They do not believe that humans can be geological force. (That used to be true.) Geologists are a thoroughly skeptical lot. They smell bad science from a great distance. And it’s not just Phil Jones who made a mess of things. Plimer is the old-fashioned sort of guy. He does not think that models are evidence. (I disagree, but I agree that Hasselmannesque use of the models by the IPCC is incorrect.) He does not think that the data are sound. (I have no opinion, as I have not been able to decipher how the data are constructed.)

  24. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    Unlike many above, I was very impressed by John Gibbons’ performance on the Pat Kenny show.

    He was browbeaten mercilessly by the country’s leading broadcaster, with the support of a denialist, live on air, with perhaps a hundred thousand listeners, and yet still managed to hold his own. Very few people could do that.

    I think he deserves the highest praise for agreeing to go on the programme when he knew that both Kenny and Plimer would attempt to wrongfoot him.

    Denialists are beyond reasonable argument, and giving air time to discussing their views only muddies the waters and hinders progress on averting runaway climate change.

    Pat Kenny is guilty of allowing a lot of mud to be thrown and some of it to stick: many of the comments above are testament to that. Most people generally side with the biggest, most popular player and so would be predisposed to supporting Kenny, who’s been in the public eye for years. That doesn’t make him right.

    As a result, Pat Kenny is responsible for delaying action in Ireland on climate change, whether by individuals or the government, and needs to examine his conscience and rethink his behaviour.

    His interviewing technique was often devious, such as when he implied that Plimer’s connections with the mining industry could have no bearing on his denialist views. Deliberately misleading listeners is not playing devil’s advocate, it is a ploy to advance an agenda. Vast quantities of rock have to be quarried, ground down and treated to produce a modicum of ore, a process that burns vast amounts of fossil fuel. On a different day, with a different panellist, Pat Kenny might be the first to point this out.

    John Gibbons’ interview with Kenny, however imperfect, may well prove to be a turning point in Kenny’s treatment of the climate change question, which has so far been irrational and blinkered. Having adopted a particular position, in public, it will be difficult for him to change course, but if he has any concern for the future of humanity, which I’m sure he does, he will have no other choice.

  25. Prof Colin O'Dowd says:



    I listened with great surprise to the Pat Kenny Show this morning and Kenny’s appalling and gratuitous treatment of the debate on climate change. He hosted an author of a climate sceptic book (which I have not read), but from the claims of the author himself only 3% or less of the contemporary CO2 increase is due to anthropogenic activity (and hence industrial and economic development).

    Kenny also hosted the Irish Times informed journalist Mr. John Gibbons. Kenny’s aggressive attack on the latter seemed to be motivated to justify his own “pedigree” in impartial journalistic skills rather than to being motivated by credibility in discussion of issues under debate!

    Well done to John Gibbons in his defense of the one-sided onslaught! Kenny should be seriously embarrassed of his professional skill as he came across as siding with an apparently discredited climate sceptic and more so, gratuitously attacking a journalist apparently better informed via credible and accepted scientific peer-reviewed literature.

    The CO2-Climate issue is based on fundamental physics – CO2 is a simple, essentially non-reactive molecule that blocks infra-red radiation emitted from the Earth and the amounts emitted depends on the amount of visible radiation absorbed through the atmosphere.

    We know the emissions of CO2, we know the accumulation in the atmosphere, we know the biosphere uptake (this is evident from the seasonal cycle in CO2 which is not changing much so far!), we know the interaction with radiation, and we know the effect on the radiation balance – simple physics, otherwise basic physics is wrong and we are in great trouble!

    Kenny prides himself in being a knowledgeable scientist and an informed journalist – he should demonstrate this excellent combination of skills better in such an important debate.

    What is uncertain is the climate (temperature and precipitation) sensitivity to CO2 accumulation and this has more to do with transmission of solar energy through the atmosphere rather than solar energy variability. This solar energy transmission is controlled by atmospheric aerosols and their cooling effect through their role in determining the reflectance of haze and cloud layers.

    Sceptics can of course point to periods of global warming and global cooling since the industrial revolution for a variety of reasons. One compelling reason for recent periods of global cooling, or global dimming, has been due to atmospheric aerosols (Particulate Matter in terms of Air Quality issues) accumulation.

    However, as we strive towards cleaner air, the temperature response will be, and has been in more recent years, greater than previously estimated, resulting in an increased rate of global warming. The net result is that cleaning up air quality will increase the rate of global warming and the rate of global warming can be almost completely (with the exception of soot carbon) attributed to the increase in greenhouse gases.

    The most important greenhouse gas is water vapour but the amount of water vapour is interlinked with the amount of greenhouse gases as CO2 induced warming will increase the water evaporation rate and potentially also lead to increases storminess and precipitation.

    To suggest that 3% of the increase of CO2 results from anthropogenic emissions is without foundation. This means that 97% of the emission increases are either unaccounted for or are natural (geophysical or biospheric). The biosphere tends to remove CO2, leaving geophysical emissions as accounting for 97% of the increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmospheric.

    If this is the case, there is a massive emission of CO2 from the Earth’s surface or from regions remote from measurement networks. Remote volcanoes could be such a source, as cited by the sceptic, but the first and gold standard CO2 time series by Keeling et al, do not illustrate any such volcanic effect since measurements started in 1958 (these were located on Mauna Loa Observatory, close to a volcano).

    In addition to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent assessment which concluded that the current day climate warming is primarily induced by anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, there are many non-governmental consortia (up to 60-70 institutional partners) that speak independently and from a credible independent voice. This voice has never spoken of such low anthropogenic CO2 contributions to the atmospheric burden.

    Since measurements of background CO2 levels began in Ireland’s Global Atmosphere Watch station at Mace Head, run by NUI Galway’s Centre for Climate & Air Pollution Studies, in co-operation with the French Research Institute LCSE, in 1992, average CO2 levels have risen from ~350 ppm to ~385 ppm to date.

    The biosphere signal in this dataset illustrates an almost constant annual cycle over the period due to biospheric uptake of CO2 in the northern hemispheric growing season. This means that the biosphere has little responsibility for the increasing trend in CO2 concentrations.

    In light of the above simple facts, the credibility of the climate change debates hosted on the Kenny RTE1 radio show have to be seriously questioned!

    Professor Colin O’Dowd
    School of Physics & (Director) Center for Climate & Air Pollution Studies, Environmental Change Institute, National University of Ireland ,Galway

  26. jack wyley says:

    You were ambushed alright. In light of your scathing but, I think, justified, criticism of PK in your IT column on Thursday week last, it was to be expected that he would come after you. To have expected a fair shake was, to put it mildly, naive. He set a trap and you walked into it.

    The fact is that you should not have gone on the programme at all, and PK must have been gleeful when you accepted his invitation. It would have been far better to deal with Plimer and PK on your own territory – your column – post broadcast, always assuming he would have gone ahead with the broadcast (doubtful!) without you.

    Having said all that, you have my sympathy. You were treated shabbily and PK, by carrying out a personality driven hatchet job on you, has damaged his reputation as a professional journalist.

    I am particularly saddened by what happened as I am in full agreement with your views on CC. Please continue your good work, but in doing so try to curb your enthusiasm for inflammatory language and argumenta ad hominem. The science is on your side. Use it.

  27. Bill O'Brien says:

    Well said Prof O’Dowd, and thanks for representing the actual science here, rather than the nonsense that passes for science.

    Having waded through a lot of the rubbish above that passes for opinions on yesterday’s charade of a debate with Pat Kenny on RTE radio, so many of the people here are missing the point entirely.

    And here’s the point: Ian Plimer is a climate denier. He is a significant shareholder in the mining industry. He has written a profoundly dishonest book which a first year Physics student could recognise as such. His book has been torn asunder by the scientific community as a tissue of falsehoods.

    If Pat Kenny were half the journalist he claims to be, he would check out this drivel BEFORE inviting Plimer onto his show. He would then challenge him on the sophistry and bad science. He would then ask Mr Gibbons, a non-scientist but a very able environmental writer, to explain why it is that scientists would write such patently dishonest material in the first place.

    The theme of yesterday’s slot should have been: Why are climate deniers trying to scupper the Copenhagen Climate Conference? Who is behind this, what are their motives, and what can be done to ensure an HONEST scientific debate takes place.

    What we got instead was a farce, plain and simple. To the disinterested listener, Kenny twisted the debate to paint Plimer as the honest scientist just trying to add to the debate and Gibbons as the extremist trying to sell some treehugger agenda.

    It was among the most cynical, nasty half hours of radio that RTE has ever broadcast. I disagree with Mr Gibbons’ assessment that Pat Kenny is simply ignorant of climate science. No, his agenda is far more refined. He quoted yet another sceptic, Dr Christie from Alabama to somehow back up his contention that the ‘debate’ was raging.

    Kenny is an extremely clever individual, with a grounding in science; there is nothing innocent to explain his wilful obstructionism away. What I’d really like to know is who do you complain to about this, and who is in a position to stop Kenny before he does even more damage?

  28. Ray\McCarthy says:

    Well done John Gibbons. It was one of the best pieces of live radio that I’d heard in ages. You were well and truly “set up” by PK who intended from the outset to be every bit as impartial as that referee in Paris the other week. It’s depressing at the eleventh hour for the planet to listen to contrarians and stage-hugging, bogus “skeptics” diverting attention and energy from the urgency of the mitigation measures required to lessen the impacts of climate change.

  29. Richard Tol says:


    That’s not what Plimer said. He said that 3% of emissions are anthropogenic. That’s roughly true for gross emissions. Humans emit about 6 GtC/yr, the ocean about 90 GtC/yr, and terrestrial vegetation about 120 GtC/yr.

    While true, Plimer’s point is irrelevant. What matters are net emissions, not gross emissions. Ocean and vegetation take up about 3 GtC/yr more than they emit, so that net emissions are 200% human.

    Plimer was just using an old accounting trick to mislead the audience.

  30. Andy Crowley says:

    Hi John,

    Wanted to add a voice of encouragement to the above. It was tough given you were up against one of the countries most experienced broadcasters & a charlatan, I think you did as well as can be expected. Well done for going on & challenging them both.

    I think you were perfectly entitled to question plimers motives & links to the mining industry given that kenny said you were an alarmist who depended on AGW warming for your career. And also implied you were blinded by some kind of religious fanaticism(an apostle).

    You were dead right also not to read his book, if the science within it is so strong why then has it not been published in a peer reviewed publication?

    Here’s a great exchange between plimer & george monbiot of the guardian that you might have already seen

    As you have said, for kenny to have someone of plimers disrepute on the week before copenhagen is disgraceful. This should have been devoted to (as outlined in thomas friedman’s excellent book hot flat & crowded) “the need to recognize a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems and blaze a new path for others to follow”

    With CC having all ready faded into the background due to Ireland’s many other woes, this makes for very depressing listening.

    Please do keep up the good work John.

  31. Garreth McDaid says:

    Well done, John.

    PK is a disgrace, and always has been.

    Its remarkable that the highest paid broadcast journalist in the country is incapable of conducting an interview in which his own prejudices aren’t lit up like neon signs.

    Remember, PK is the only broadcaster in history to have conducted an interview with Jerry Seinfeld (or Seinfield as Kenny called) that *wasn’t* funny.

  32. Dr. Phil Heelan says:

    @John Gibbons
    John, I completely agree with your point of view. However I believe Pat Kenny and Ian Pilmer destroyed you in the debate, fair and square.

    Not reading an opposing view (albeit objectionable to you) is not the correct way to debate this issue. Rubbishing his work in this way comes across as emotional, and subsequently led to you personalizing your side of the argument. Being informed in advance (of his work) would have led to a more informed response and subsequent disarming of what became the Pat/Ian onslaught .


  33. David Quinn says:

    Hi John,
    I’m looking forward to your answer, but I understand you must be inundated at the moment. I can’t understand however how you can rubbish a book you haven’t read. If you get the chance could you answer another question – are there any scientists sceptical about the theory of AGW that you do respect?

  34. denis says:

    We need more clear explanations, such as Richard Tol just gave us about the 3% co2 conundrum, to help counteract the non-science floating around.

  35. Joseph Curtin says:

    @ Colin

    My understanding from the first listen was the same as Richard’s. He seemed to say that on “only” 3% p/a come from human sources, but forgot to mention that concentrations have more than doubled since beginning of industrial revolution for the reasons Richard outlines above. His intention was clearly to mislead his audience in an effort one supposes “to bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate…”

  36. Richard Tol says:

    CO2 concentrations increased from some 275 ppmv around 1750 to some 385 ppmv in 2009. That’s a 40% increase.

  37. neil says:


    Go to this scientific paper on volcanoes and you will see a list of eruptions listed from page 4 onwards. Take out all those prior to 1750, there aren’t that many.

    Are you honestly saying that the dozens of volcanic eruptions, some continuing for over a year have nothing to do with a slight rise in CO2 in the atmosphere?

    Surely that is even beyond the reasoning of any rational thinking person?

    Putting volcanoes aside since you appear to discount their CO2 output, how can you reconcile much higher CO2 cocentrations in the atmosphere in thev past, well before any type of industry existed?

    Surely this can only happen due to natural geological or solar impacts?

  38. Eithna says:


    Take a look at this paper on volcanoes.

    You can discount the eruptions prior to 1750 which still leaves a substantial amount of volcanic eruptions since that time period.

    Are you really suggesting that these eruptions, with the huge volumes of CO2 they have produced over the centuries have nothing to do with slightly higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere?

    If so how do you account for the far higher levels of CO2 which were in the atmosphere well before industry had developed on the planet?

    Suerly any rational thinking person must assume that these increases were due to something other than human activity such as geological or solar phenomena?

  39. Richard Tol says:

    Volcanic CO2 emissions are about 1% of fossil CO2 emissions at present.

  40. John Gibbons says:

    From today’s Sunday Tribune, their radio reviewer, John Foley dedicated his entire half page to the spat on the PK show last Wednesday:


    Recent verbal jousts on The Frontline seem to have whetted Pat Kenny’s appetite for a good old argument because on Wednesday morning (Today with Pat Kenny, RTE Radio One) he played his part in a debate on climate change that was so caustic it had the listener checking the wireless for blood when it was all over.

    Kenny had on the line an Australian professor of geology called Ian Plimer, who was promoting his book, Heaven and Earth. Plimer argues that man’s impact on global warming is minimal and that the current changes in our climate are part of a natural cycle.

    In studio was climate columnist with the Irish Times John Gibbons, someone who has written extensively on what he sees as the myriad ways in which man is contributing to climate change.

    It all started as one might expect. “There certainly is evidence of man-made global warming,” the Australian said. “It’s made by man fudging the numbers.”

    Even at this stage you got the sense that Kenny was setting Plimer up for a fall. Gibbons would succinctly debunk the book and we’d all be on our merry way.

    Not quite. There was going to be an explosion and the way Kenny brought Gibbons into the conversation was the first attempt at lighting the fuse. “Now, John Gibbons, you have described Ian Plimer as a grade-A charlatan, isn’t that so?” It’s as if he was saying, “Go on. I’ve set him up, you knock him out.”

    But it seemed Gibbons wasn’t on the same wavelength. He said he wasn’t going to trade “nonsense with this nonsense book” because what Plim er had to say was “complete and utter rubbish”.

    Plimer was back in. “Either you’ve not read the book or you’ve misquoted me,” he said to Gibbons. “What I’m seeing is the characteristic of my critics. They attack the man, they do not read the work and I suspect that a lot of this is done by people who are rent [sic] seekers. If you’re an environmental writer you stay alive by frightening your audience witless.”

    Gibbons was aghast and Kenny had another go at lighting that fuse.

    “If climate change wasn’t a big public issue, you’d be writing about something else,” Kenny told Gibbons. “You are one of those who benefits from the climate-change debate. In your job surely you should be looking at all the arguments. That is the job of a journalist.”

    Bang. It had all kicked off and Gibbons realised he was taking a hammering. He had to go on the offensive. “I’ve published in the Irish Times 88 articles running to about 80,000 words. I’m not sure how many of those you’ve read, Pat. By the sounds of it, not too many.”

    “I’m not a fan,” replied Kenny. There was a little bit of a chill in his voice.

    “Right, you’re not a fan. I guess that’s be cause you’re what we call a climate sceptic.”

    “No, this is not about me,” said Kenny

    “You’ve made this about me, that’s why I’m making it about you,” said Gibbons.

    In the background, you could hear Plimer laughing his head off at the two Irish lads squabbling.

    “Okay, so what are we trying to critique here exactly, Pat?” asked Gibbons, trying to regain his composure. “Are we trying to critique Ian Plimer’s schoolboy science-y book.”

    “Did you read it?” asked Kenny.

    “I did not, you must be kidding.”

    And so we got to the nub of the issue. As much as Plimer’s arguments on climate change may seem strange, he had called Gibbons perfectly. He was attacking the man be cause he hadn’t read the book.

    At one stage Gibbons said every scientist listening would be wondering why there was such a “circus” on national radio. But by not reading the book he had been invited to critique, Gibbons himself was pitching the big top. You also wondered where Kenny stood on the issue. He referred to perhaps not giving enough credence to minority views on the Irish economy over the years. But was this attempt to redress the balance on the climate debate a little skewed? For example, Plimer’s links to the mining industry were never fully dissected. Surely this was a conflict of interest that deserved to be question ed more thoroughly?

    The debate on journalistic ethics continued and there was stuff from Gibbons about “Pat Kenny ramming words down people’s necks” and “are you having trouble with your headphones?” Oh, the sarcasm, the sheer bile. It was great fun.

    What happens after a slot like this? Do Kenny and Gibbons both stand up and eye each other like a couple of gunslingers? Maybe Kenny strides over and heartily shakes Gibbons’ hand saying, “Thanks for that. Great radio.”

    It certainly was great radio. Did it enlighten the listener on the climate change debate? Not a whit. Just as Plimer hoped, you suspect.

  41. John Gibbons says:

    And here’s Quentin Fottrell’s verdict in his radio column in yesterday’s Irish Times:


    “Far away from commercial radio, Pat Kenny chaired a heated half-hour debate on Wednesday’s Today (RTÉ Radio One, weekdays) between Irish Times columnist John Gibbons and climate change sceptic Ian Plimer.

    Kenny showed his hand when he called Gibbons an “apostle” for climate change. “This is more of the Pat Kenny ramming words down people’s necks,” Gibbons said. And on it went. It’s online and definitely worth a listen.

  42. Al says:

    John, I think you are doing a good job addressing problems such as Peak Oil and general sustainability issues. I think Peak Oil is still much under-reported and could well lead to a new dark age when it finally strikes with a vengeance. However, I just don’t get the AGW issue at all. From everything I’ve read, it seems like a non-issue. I took the trouble of downloading the last 60 years worth of temperatures from Valentia and Malin, and I’ll be damned if I can see a trend, good, bad, or indifferent. I’ve seen some papers which prove that the greenhouse effect breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics. For me that’s game over. My question to you is: what would it take for you to revise your current attitude towards AGW, if anything? Remember AGW is only a theory and so must be falsifiable.

  43. Peter Walsh says:

    Well done John! I’ve just downloaded this extraordinary podcast. History will judge you responsible –by default –for introducing Shock-jock radio to Ireland!!

    I agree with Jack Wyley: you were ambushed over your previous criticism -well deserved -of Kenny. Despite being so obviously set up you performed extraordinarily well: I think the mask slipped very quickly with the suggestion you’re in this for the money? However JW’s suggestion that on such an important issue the national broadcaster could even think of intimidating you off the air is outlandish -we license / tax-payers do have rights!

    A brief Google of J. Christy suggests his main point is that long term measurements are distorted by urban development in close proximity to thermometers? But if all the models are therefore wrong, how come the physical evidence is now daily fulfilling the direst predictions? So, e.g. ocean acidification is down to all that damned pavement…. Christy also –astonishingly for someone with his credentials -makes the common error of confusing short-term weather forecasting with longer term climate prediction. It’s like saying it’s as easy to construct a 1-minute wave pattern predictive model –necessarily chaotic -as a 10-year tidal pattern.

    Two points from Plimer (that come to mind) that PK either missed or glided over:

    • ‘30 % levels of CO2’ prevailed with -at most -extremely primitive life-forms so of no relevance to context of current crisis.

    • ‘3%’ (whether accurate or not) figure mentioned by Plimer is net of the natural cycle –i.e. still a possibly catastrophic imbalance.

    Bill O’Brien raises the question of motivation behind all this nonsense: one can speculate but a similar albeit more civilised assault was mounted by Clive James on a recent ‘Point of View’ on Radio 4 at:

    What James demonstrates –for all his erudite reference to Montaignian scepticism –and in common it seems with all sceptics such as Kenny is a blissful unawareness of the ‘Precautionary Principle’. By way of analogy: A fully-laden bus heading for a blind bend on the wrong side of the road -the driver thinks: ‘I can’t predict the outcome here, so it’s worth the risk.’

    But we’re now way past the prediction phase -as demonstrated by the Bangladeshi government’s request yesterday for a lifeboat for 20 million people….keep up the great work!

  44. Vincent Bourke says:

    Hi John, until very recently I accepted fully the consensus on AGW and the IPCC reports and was very dismissive of the sceptics. However, I am becoming very concerned at the ‘witchhunt’ attitude abroad in the environmental movement, in the media, and now, apparently, within the scientific community towards anyone who expresses any doubt on AGW. Surely it is the antithesis of the scientific method and a slippery slope to totalitarianism to deny the right to speak or publish to those of an opposing viewpoint. I thought Pat Kenny was very reasonable and correct in simply proposing that both sides be heard (not necessarily getting equal time) without insult or barracking. Now, calling for Pat Kenny to be sacked (as some are doing here) simply for giving time to sceptics is surely an assault on free speech. By the way, I cannot conceive of a geologist who does not now have, or has never had, any commercial relationship (employee, owner, director, consultant…) with a mining company. If Plimer’s facts are wrong then attack him on the facts – but do your reading first.

  45. Plebian says:

    Hi John, Given Plimer’s childish behaviour with Monbiot recently,

    ( )

    I thought you did the best you could do, in the circumstances. It really was Kenny & Plimer vs yourself.

    Now it might have been interesting to throw back at him the same list of questions he dodged so embarrassingly, but Plimer would have used his usual obfuscation and unempirical claptrap to, in effect, counter without answering.

    Anyways, I’ve posted about this on indymedia,

    Pat Kenny’s Climate Change Denial

    “I was lucky enough to be able to listen to Pat Kenny’s show last week and on Wednesday, he had yet another climate change denier on – the ludicrous and discredited Ian Plimer – opposite John Gibbons.

    Pat Kenny’s radio show has long been a platform for the most kookiest of deniers, and it is quite clear where his own views are on the subject. In fact, the only thing that appears to get him more, eh, heated, is somebody with the temerity to mention the use of progressive taxation! Particularly when as an alternative out of the current economic crisis…

    So, I thought he’d yet again play it somewhat cagey (as in hiding his bias against the overwhelming consensus) but clearly give Plimer an easy time of it, however, Kenny just let the mask slip very, very visibly. The ‘debate’ would be Kenny & Plimer vs Gibbons and 99.9% of the peer-reviewed science. Kenny treated Plimer with kid gloves and then called Gibbons an “apostle” for climate change.

    You really would need to listen to the audio (1), as if it was not so serious (2) it would in some way be funny.
    It was an absolutely disgraceful performance for a public broadcaster and he would follow it up the following day with a very childish series of one-sided rebuttals. Kenny repeated the performance against a climate scientist on Friday, inferring dishonesty on the case for anthropogenic climate change and putting words into his mouth.


    Click here to listen to the Pat Kenny/Plimer/Gibbons “debate” 2-12-09

    You might also be interested in,

    The Myth of the Tragedy of the Commons

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